So, welcome to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): the art of making your website visible to your target audience. There’s no quick-fix, or magic formula to it, but focusing on the basics at the beginning can go a long way in helping you to build a steady stream of valuable traffic.
Understanding what search engines are looking for
Without the likes of Google, we’d all be lost in cyberspace: we type what we’re looking for in the search box, and Google displays the suggested results in order of relevance. Behind all of this is the ‘Googlebot’: Google’s tool that crawls from website to website, looking for new and updated information, which is then processed and used to compile Google’s searchable index.
Search engines are getting better all the time at ‘thinking’ like a real person. For instance, being able to tell whether a website is genuinely useful or not. The days when website owners were able to trick Google into thinking their website was awesome, when in fact it was just filled with spam, have all but disappeared. So, when thinking about SEO now, it’s worth considering these 3 things:
This is a very important part of SEO at the moment, and ties into Google being able to identify spam or irrelevant content. For example, if your content is seen as too thin, is duplicated either on your site or elsewhere, or stuffed with keywords (the terms that people type into Google, that you hope will bring up your site in their search results: i.e. you might want to rank for ‘hairdressers Islington’ if you have a salon in Islington), it’s likely you will be hit with a Google penalty. That means that your site will be harder to find when people type in said terms, and so will get less traffic and exposure. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that your content is relevant to what your audience is looking for.
To identify websites that are the most useful, Google looks at whether other authoritative and credible websites have linked to it. An example of a credible link might be where you give an interview to the online edition of your local paper about setting up a business, which includes a link to your website so the readers can click through. However, paying someone to link to your site is a big no-no: it will make your site look less credible in the eyes of Google and is likely to result another Google penalty.
If your site fails to load quickly (or at all), Google’s not going to send visitors your way. In fact, website speed is now factored into Google’s ranking system. This is based around user experience: if the user has a negative experience, which includes slow loading times, an overly-complicated user interface, or even an inconsistent site in terms of speed and accessibility, these may lead to a high bounce rate, and a Google penalty as a result. To ensure your website will be ‘crawled’ and indexed by Google, factors such as these need to be at an optimum level.
Work out who you’re optimising for to create relevant content
Most crucially, you should consider that you’re optimising your site for real people, rather than for just a search engine. If you don’t bring your audience something that’s valuable, they’ll bounce right off your site and will be unlikely to return. As a starting point, you need to determine what makes your audience tick: this will lead what they put into that all-important Google search box.
Let’s say you’re setting up your own sports-focused physiotherapy service. What type of problems do footballers talk about compared to, say, runners? When we have a problem to solve, we rarely click on the first solution we see and click ‘buy’: we want to understand the context our problem sits in, and learn about all the possible solutions and their consequences before we commit to one. Knowing the questions your audience is asking means you’re able to give genuinely useful solutions to said questions. Here’s why this is useful from an SEO point of view:
- It helps you identify the right keywords to try and rank for
- It helps you stay relevant, and provide a better user experience by focusing your content on your target audience’s interests
- It helps you build authority. If you put together a guide on, say, ‘how to deal with a football knee injury’ that hits home with your audience, is clicked on and is shared socially, you are helping to show Google that yours is a site worth paying attention to.
Do keyword research
Whilst this area can get pretty complicated quite quickly (which is why there are SEO specialists to help you out, once your business starts to grow and things are at a larger scale), here’s a basic breakdown on how to come up with a list of words and phrases to focus on when creating your website content:
- Make a list of topics that are broadly relevant to your business
- For each topic, brainstorm a list of terms you think people would use to search for your site: i.e. t-shirts, retro t-shirts, tees, men’s t-shirts, custom t-shirts etc. Try a tool such as Ubersuggest to help you get some ideas
- If you’re running a paid ad (PPC) campaign and you have a Google Adwords account, you can use the Google Keyword Planner to search for further suggested terms based on a keyword or topic, to see how searches are made each month for those terms, and to see how much competition there is to rank for them. Alternative tools include: Seed Keywords, SERPWoo and Keywordtool.io.
- To begin with, one strategy can be to focus on a handful of keywords directly relevant to your product or service, ranked ‘low’ to ‘medium’ in terms of competition. The majority of these are likely to be ‘longtail’ keywords: phrases rather than single words (i.e. ‘how to cut hair’ rather than ‘haircut’). By way of example, you’ll have a better chance of driving traffic to your site by focusing on the longtail keyword ‘sports physiotherapist in Manchester’ than you would with ‘physiotherapist’. This is why websites are increasingly optimised for topic, rather than specific keyword itself.
Consider on-page optimisation
Keyword research is important, but optimisation isn’t about ‘stuffing’ your content with certain phrases in an unnatural way. It’s worth paying special attention to certain basic elements of your pages when thinking about SEO:
This is what you see at the top of your browser. If you can work a core keyword into it, all the better: this will be what initially draws your reader in, so therefore it must be relevant to the body of that page.
This is a few, short lines of text that show up beneath your site’s title and URL in search result pages. It should contain a concise explanation of the contents of a particular page. Try and give a compelling reason for would-be visitors to click on your link.
As examples, product descriptions and pages providing general information about your business. However, don’t overdo it: if keywords fit naturally into what you’re trying to say, incorporate them. It is more important you stay natural in your tone, and to keep a consistent tone throughout your website (remember about the Google penalties about weak content, and focus on creating a website that is of actual use to your audience).
Links to your content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube can help Google see that yours is a useful site – so it’s always a good idea to share your content across as many channels as possible, where you can.
Learning more about your market, getting creative with targeted content, social media, and knowing how to tweak your site to make it Google-friendly is an ongoing process. So, as far as you can, it’s worth keeping up to date on SEO through blogs, news, webinars, or even by taking a concerted look at the competition and seeing what they’re up to. Again, once your business grows, SEO tends to get quite finicky quite quickly, so it may be worth seeking the help of a professional if you’d like to manage your site on a bigger scale.
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